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Billy Joel Transitions onto Broadway


Since 1971, Billy Joel has been wowing audiences with songs such as Piano Man, Scenes From an Italian Restaurant and Uptown Girl. Recently, his music has moved beyond the radio to Broadway. In recent years, Billy Joel has spent most of his creative energy writing classical compositions and touring with British pop musician, Elton John. The Broadway musical "Movin' Out" represents Mr. Joel's first new project involving his popular music since 1993.

The musical is the creation of award-winning choreographer, Twlya Tharp. The idea for the musical was born when Ms. Tharp arranged some dances to several of Billy Joel's songs. She later contacted the songwriter and invited him to see her arrangements. Mr. Joel recalls his initial apprehensions. "She came to me originally and said, 'I want to show you some choreography I've done to your work." I said, 'ok' coming in, not knowing what to expect, thinking it could be a cringe-fest, and I saw these beautifully choreographed dances of my music, I said, 'Of course! This is a perfect medium. This a great genre for my music to live in.'"

Billy Joel, a five-time Grammy winner, has been approached many times in the past by people hoping to put his music on Broadway. And no one has ever been able to convince him it was a good idea, until Twyla Tharp. Mr. Joel was so impressed with Ms. Tharp's theatrical vision that he has given her permission to use any of his compositions for "Movin' Out."

"This was something different," he says. "This came from left field. It wasn't necessarily based on a book. It was based on the lyrics to my songs being the dialog to a show that was danced. So what you have is a band playing the music. A guy playing the piano and singing the songs above the action and the dancers are the characters from the songsā€¦ Brenda and Eddie, and Anthony, Judy and James. One of the questions Twlya asked me from the beginning was, 'What ever happened to Brenda and Eddie after this? What did Anthony do? Where did these people end up?' And I said, 'I don't know.'"

"Movin' Out" attempts to answer those nagging questions left in Billy Joel's lyrics. Mr. Joel's music often involves telling very personal stories about slices of American life. He can make you feel that the characters in his songs are not just people he's met over the years, but the kind of people we've all known at one time or another.

Billy Joel's says his style of musical storytelling has made for a smooth transition to Broadway. "Actually I was writing little musicals when I was doing my albums anyway. A lot of the albums have a theme. There's a beginning, middle and an end and they're stories in their own right."

"Movin' Out" doesn't follow a single Billy Joel album or theme. It pulls songs and characters from many different albums spanning the songwriter's twenty-two years as a popular music composer. While the Broadway musical does attempt to put a face on some of the characters in Joel's music, Mr. Joel himself says that the show will not detract from any of the songs' personal meaning. Rather, he says that for his fans, it will bring new dimensions to the characters he sings about.

When Billy Joel isn't spending time watching "Movin' Out" on Broadway, he'll be continuing his world tour with fellow Piano Man, Elton John. Mr. Joel adds that he still has a lot more songwriting that he wants to do. He's expressed interest in writing more classical music. He's even toyed with the idea of writing an entirely new Broadway show.